Site Name
    The University of the Western Cape and the Mayibuye Centre
    Site History

    The Extension of University Education Act of 1959 (Republic of South Africa, 1959), enabled the establishment of a number of racial and ethnic postsecondary institutions. The following year, the University of the Western Cape (UWC) was created for the education of ‘Cape Coloured, Malay, Griqua or other coloured group persons’. 91 The establishment of UWC was intended to fragment ‘black’ opposition to apartheid along racial–ethnic lines. These racial and ethnic universities were meant to produce the administrators for the bantustans and Departments of Indian Affairs and Coloured Affairs. To this end, historically black universities such as UWC were restricted to fields of study heavily concentrated in the social sciences, humanities, and in particular, education. For the first decade of UWC’s existence, the college functioned according to the dictates of the Apartheid government.

    Conservative White monopolized senior academic appointments as well as the university’s administration and senate, and student protests were relatively absent. However, in 1973 coloured students began to organize and challenge the racist practices endemic on campus, resulting in a number of suspensions and expulsions and the closure of UWC for a short period. These events coincided with the mass mobilization of workers and students elsewhere in the country and the emergence of the Black Consciousness (BC) Movement. Following the Soweto uprising, political struggles by UWC students intensified on campus. In 1980, clashes between security forces and UWC students further radicalized the university and coincided with public school boycotts in the Western Cape region and the loss of political power by white conservatives over the institution’s administration and senate. These clashes symbolized a new era at UWC, as student protest on campus became more clearly linked to the national-liberation struggle. In 1982, progressive faculty and staff—some of whom rose out of the ranks of the university’s student body in the 1970s—persuaded UWC’s senate to reject the institution’s mandate under Apartheid. With the rewriting of its mission statement in 1982, the university laid down the foundation for South Africa’s first non-racial, open admissions policy in higher education. Spearheaded by Professors Durand and Gerwel (a future Rector of UWC), the one-page document entitled UWC Objectives listed a number of conditions which compelled the university to shape its policies to further the principles of the ongoing national-liberation struggle against apartheid. UWC dramatically altered the landscape of tertiary education in South Africa by adopting an open admissions policy whereby any student regardless of his/her racial classifications under apartheid was eligible to attend UWC. From an ideological perspective, shedding its image as an exclusively coloured institution based on the apartheid policy of separate development meant that UWC could more effectively function as an institution in support of mass struggle and national liberation in South Africa. During the 1970s, UWC had become a battleground for coloured students who increasingly identified with their indigenous African counterparts in resistance elsewhere in the country. The BC movement influenced student radicals attending UWC, including its future rector Gerwel, who would help rewrite the university’s mission statement that ushered in open admissions on campus. By the early 1980s, an important strata of former students at UWC influenced by BC politics were now active members of the university’s faculty and political supporters of a UDF/ANC nexus. The Robben Island World Heritage Site has rich archival resources mostly based at the Mayibuye Archive, situated in the Main Library at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) campus. The Mayibuye Archive is one of the largest archives of liberation struggle materials in the country – the collections include many unique materials relating to the struggle for freedom, or to Robben Island and imprisonment under apartheid. However, the University, like many of the others established for black students during the apartheid era, was also a site of struggle.

    When the South African Students Organisation was established by Steve Biko and other students, Henry Isaacs, SRC president at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) attended the inaugural conference, which took place at Turfloop in July 1969. Student leaders at UWC who associated themselves from the beginning with Black Consciousness included Isaacs, Freddy Bunting, J. Issy and Peter Jones. Support for striking students in Soweto in 1976 was inaugurated by action taken by students at UWC, and soon developed into protest activities with mass disturbances in Langa, Nyanga and Gugulethu. This was followed later by heated protest activities in the coloured residential areas, particularly Manenberg, Bonteheuwel, Hanover Park, Elsies River, Ravensmead, Retreat, Athlone and Grassy Park.

    The uprising also spread to rural towns in the Western Cape such as Oudtshoorn, George, Mossel Bay, Stellenbosch, and Paarl. In the 1980s, many activists in the United Democratic Front and the liberation movement were politicised as students at UWC. By this time, the university had become known as the ‘University of the Left’, led by its rector, Jakes Gerwel.

    Record Administration
    Last modified
    Thursday, April 11, 2024 - 16:12
      -33.9334485, 18.6257728
      Western Cape
      • City of Cape Town
      Site Address

      South Africa

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